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Monsanto, BASF leave Europe alone, U.S. braces for more GMO pressure

The world's largest seed and chemical companies—Monsanto and BASF—made announcements that Europe is not a viable market for genetically modified crops. What does this mean for the United States?

Thousands rejoiced (including yours truly) when BASF—the largest chemical company in the world—made the decision to pull sale of its biotech plants from Europe, stating in a press release “There is still a lack of acceptance for this technology in many parts of Europe—from the majority of consumers, farmers and politicians. Therefore, it does not make business sense to continue investing in products exclusively for cultivation in this market.”

This groundbreaking news surfaced in the same time frame as Monsanto—the world’s largest genetically engineered (GE) seed company—made the announcement it “considers favourable conditions for the sale of MON810 [a drought-resistant strain of corn] in France in 2012 and beyond are not in place.”

European Union activist groups viewed both decisions as a victory. The environmental organization Friends of the Earth Europe stated, “this is a good day for consumers and farmers and opens the door for the European Union to shift Europe to greener and more publicly acceptable farming.”

While this is certainly a triumph for non-GMO supporters, it’s suspicious that both companies proclaimed Europe as a lost cause within weeks of each other. Simple economics dictates that in order to continue growing, companies must refocus their efforts elsewhere in order to make up for lost revenue.

No GMOs in Europe, so BASF and Monsanto focus stateside

It turns out BASF and Monsanto don’t make strange bedfellows, as the companies are joining forces for further pursuit of genetically modified agriculture in North and South America. “BASF Plant Science’s product pipeline will continue its strong focus on the yield and stress projects in which crops are developed with higher yields and improved resistance to stress conditions like drought,” BASF states. “This includes the collaboration with Monsanto for corn, soy, cotton, canola and wheat. At the end of 2011, the first product from this partnership, drought-tolerant corn, was approved for cultivation in the United States.” In fact, Raleigh, N.C., can start planning the welcoming parade for the new BASF agriculture headquarters—which will double as a plant biotech research facility—in the near future. 

Frankly, this news is infuriating. For now, Europe has squeezed out the chief players in GM technology—both a commendable and inspiring feat which offers a blueprint for non-GMO activists to emulate. But if biotech companies plan to concentrate their efforts even more ferociously on the United States, should we really be toasting success?

BASF’s tagline is “The Chemical Company,” and this indicates there is something deeply backwards with our food system. Any third grader forbidden to play under the kitchen sink can tell you chemicals are bad; don’t eat chemicals. So why is a self-proclaimed chemical company meddling with the food we eat at all? Despite the tremendous boom of organic food sales in the past decade, I find it fundamentally strange and downright unsavory that organic is not the default agricultural method rather than the exception.

With stronger pressure for GMO crops pending in the coming years, the U.S. must recharge its efforts to maintain food purity. While GMOs are a multifaceted and complex issue—ripe in political agendas and lobbyist actions—education will ultimately be the most powerful tool in spearheading this movement.

What do you think the future holds for GMOs in the U.S.? Leave a comment.

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